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April 4, 2008

HR Fact Friday: Telecommuting – Hit or Miss?

Filed under: Performance Management6:00 am

A recent article by Kate Lorenz (  found the number of Americans whose employer allows them to work remotely at least one day per month increased 63 percent, from 7.6 million in 2004 to 12.4 million in 2006 (according to a 2007 report issued by WorldatWork).  In total, the sum of  teleworkers (both employed and self-employed) working remotely at least one day per month has risen 10 percent from 26.1 million in 2005 to 28.7 million in 2006. 

I’ve worked with many home-based colleagues, coworkers, and vendors over my career. Being in marketing, I regularly associate with home-based writers, designers, event planners, photographers, developers, programmers, etc. to perform my job. I don’t even think twice if I’m having a conference call with an associate and I hear a dog bark in the background or a baby being fussy. I do think twice about working with a home-based colleague if after several attempts my calls are not returned or receipt of my email’s confirmed. It all comes down to performance and professionalism.

The bottom line for me, when working with anybody, regardless of location is:

  • Is the work getting done in a timely, satisfactory, and high quality manner?
  • Am I able to communicate effectively with the other party (i.e. are they responsive when I call or email) . . . especially when a problem arises?
  • Am I being kept adequately informed regarding project status?

A successful home based employee (not a free-lancer, or self-employed individual) will understand that they are under more scrutiny to complete assignments on time and be available and responsive when associates need to reach them to exchange information. The home-based employee needs to make sure they answer all calls, check and return emails promptly, and provide additional status updates to their associates and team members. This is because the risk a home-based employee runs if they are not responsive is that their office-based associates (which quite often includes their boss) will infer they are not working if they cannot be reached.Slowly but surely, and albeit begrudgingly, the data above suggests more employers are becoming comfortable allowing employees in certain job functions to work from home.  Allowing this flexibility has become somewhat of a necessity to attract and retain skilled workers — especially employees who live more than 30 miles from the office and must endure long commutes and expensive automotive fuel costs or public transportation fares.Affordable and reliable portable computers, high speed Internet connectivity, cell phones, PDA’s, and the ability to quickly and securely log on to the company network have allowed the virtual workforce to flourish. The success of the employee as measured in their performance is up to them and how they are able to prioritize and manage their time at home.I’ve known workers who have been all set up and working from home, make the decision to come back to the office because they found it too difficult to separate home and work responsibilities.  They ended up starting work earlier and working later to make up for all the interruptions and distractions they encountered during the 9 to 5 workday.

For the employer, the difficulty in allowing employees to work from home usually isn’t in the performance or management of the employee (although having clearly communicated expectations is important), it’s in being fair in equitable in determining who works from home, and when. A company, or manager that believes they are being progressive and doing a good thing for their employees, could quickly learn they have soured the corporate culture and caused rancor by not having consistent policies and guidelines in place that determine eligibility for who ‘gets to’ telecommute and work from home and on what days (Monday’s and Fridays seem to be particularly popular choices by employees even though these are statistically the two least productive days of the workweek).


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